Hollywood has tweaked its return-to-work protocols as more and more films and TV shows have had to pause production after members of their casts and crews tested positive for Covid-19. Under a new agreement that took effect November 30, producers will now have to notify the unions of positive test results on their shows so that the unions can apprise cast and crew members of the Covid-19 status of their sets.
“When we and our sister unions negotiated the safety and testing protocols in our Return to Work agreement with producers,” the DGA told its members, “we knew that as circumstances changed, adjustments would be required to manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The good news is that production has been ramping back up since that time, and early signs indicate that the protocols are achieving their objective of reducing risk and catching infected individuals early in the disease, in most cases before they are contagious. But there are steeper challenges up ahead as the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities is surging – which, if not taken seriously and not addressed properly, may have devastating consequences for our industry.”
“Today, as COVID-19 spikes throughout the country,” the DGA said, “the upcoming holidays pose an extraordinary risk for increased virus spread. Though we strongly encourage everyone to avoid gathering in public places or with friends and extended family over the holidays, the fact remains that this is still a high-risk time period for everyone. We also know that there is lag time in between initial contact with the virus and when it can be detected in a test.
“To account for this, the Guild and our sister unions have negotiated terms to provide the employers with the flexibility and economic incentive to increase post-holiday testing and take additional time to get results before resuming production. If additional days are needed to test the crew, producers may: Delay the post-Thanksgiving start of production until Thursday, December 3, 2020, at the latest, without payment of intervening days for directors. Prorate the salary of a weekly employee who works fewer than 5 days in the week following Thanksgiving and/or the Christmas/New Year hiatus. Enact a workweek shift without payment of a premium if additional time is needed to accommodate testing of employees before resuming production after Thanksgiving and/or the Christmas/New Years hiatus. In addition, Zone B employees will be tested twice the week following Thanksgiving.”
The new agreement says that “To assist the Unions in fulfilling their role as the collective bargaining representatives of employees covered by this Agreement, and so that they may respond to member inquiries about positive test results on a production on which the member is employed, the Producer shall notify the Unions as soon as practicable of the following information, to the extent known at the time, in the event of a positive test result on a production: the number of individuals with a positive test result, the Zone(s) in which the positive test result(s) occurred and the date the test result(s) was or were reported. In addition, Producer may include in the notice other information with regard to the positive test result(s).”
Under the new agreement (read it here), the unions will also provide producers with contact information for the individuals designated to receive notices of positive test results on behalf of each union.
A sample notice to be provided by the producers to the unions states: “This notice is to advise you that [#] individuals employed on [name of production] in Zone [A/B/C] returned a positive test result for COVID-19 on [date].”
The original protocols established a system of “zones” to ensure that different sections of a production would be tightly controlled to establish “barriers” within which those on set can move about based on proximity to cast, level of testing, PPE and the extent to which physical distancing can be observed in the performance of their work. Cast members and those with whom they come into frequent contact would be grouped in Zone A, while other individuals on set would be grouped in Zone B. “The Zone system is the structure and foundation around which all on-set Covid-19 safety decisions should be engineered,” the protocols state.
The AMPTP and the unions have also reached a “special agreement” relating to testing during and immediately following the traditional production breaks for the holiday season. The new agreement says that “Producers agree to notify the Unions of their plans for Covid-19 testing during and/or following the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks, including the intended duration of the holiday break…With respect to the Christmas break, such notice shall be provided no later than December 11, 2020. If the Unions have not received notice of a Producer’s plans by the applicable deadline, they should contact the Producer so that the Producer can promptly provide such plans to the Union.
“It is understood that a Producer’s plans are subject to change. Factors such as the production’s access to different types of tests, the availability of different types of tests, the volume of tests required on the production and projected testing turnaround time, among other things, may necessitate changes in the testing plan. If a testing plan changes after it has been delivered to the Unions, the Producer shall promptly notify the Unions of the change.”
A new agreement specific to the DGA and SAG-AFTRA will also “Allow the Producer to resume production no later than Thursday, December 3, 2020 following the Thanksgiving break without payment for intervening days if the delay is necessary to accommodate testing of employees after the holiday,” and will allow the producer “to apply the holiday hiatus provision of the applicable collective bargaining agreement if the hiatus lasts no longer than three weeks when the Producer needs additional time to accommodate testing of employees prior to the resumption of production after the Christmas holiday hiatus.
“Additionally, in jurisdictions where employees are subject to quarantine protocols, the hiatus period may be extended to four weeks without payment for intervening days if necessary to comply with quarantine restrictions, provided that Directors employed under the Basic Agreement who are paid less than two hundred percent (200%) of scale and who do not work during quarantine shall be paid for time spent in quarantine pursuant to the Return to Work Agreement. (All other employees shall continue to be subject to the existing rules of the Return to Work Agreement without modification.)”
The side letter will also “Allow a workweek shift without payment of a premium when the Producer needs additional time to accommodate testing of employees prior to the resumption of production after the holiday hiatus (i.e., the Thanksgiving and/or Christmas/New Year’s breaks). This does not affect the Producer’s ability to shift the workweek in other circumstances under the applicable collective bargaining agreement.
“Unions agree that to the extent the applicable collective bargaining agreement does not already permit a Producer to prorate the salary of a weekly employee who works fewer than 5 days in a week, it may do so during the week following Thanksgiving and during the week following the Christmas/New Year’s hiatus if the employee works fewer than 5 days that week because the production has chosen to delay resumption of production in order to complete testing of employees. Testing on a day when the employee does not work will be paid according to Item 2.d.i. of the Return to Work Agreement.”